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Bike rack will find new home in downtown Bemidji after DDA decision

BEMIDJI - The controversial downtown bike rack will not be placed in front of the Cabin Coffeehouse and Cafe, but new locations are being proposed to create a friendlier downtown for cyclists.

"We want to create a new win-win situation for a new master bike plan for the downtown and to have a bike-friendly downtown," Downtown Development Authority member Mitch Rautio said Wednesday morning at the authority's meeting.

Rautio served on the bike rack task force with DDA members Linda Autrey, Denise Koenigsberg and Noemi Aylesworth, owner of the Cabin.

The task force proposed new locations to add to the 30 public and private bike racks that already exist downtown. With approval from area businesses, the task force proposed adding bike corrals at the following locations:

-- On Third Street Northwest, near Patterson's Menswear.

-- On Minnesota Avenue Northwest, north of the Third Street intersection.

-- On Fourth Street, just east of the Beltrami Avenue intersection.

Each corral would hold approximately 18 bikes. Rautio said he would like to see the bike racks look nice and maybe be made by a local artist like Al Belleveau who built the rack that sparked the controversy.

A motion was carried to move forward with the master plan, recommending it to the city and getting opinions from businesses in the proposed areas. The motion leaves Belleveau's bike rack without a home for now.

Aylesworth said one problem with the proposal is the continued delay to getting bike racks out. The bike rack in front of the Cabin was set to be put out on May 15.

Her main concern is May 23, when a group of 50 cyclists from the Twin Cities will be in town. Autrey said the bikers will have to use the 30 existing racks in town.

The bike rack has spent part of the last two summers outside of the Cabin. It has become controversial in that some area businesses have objected to its placement on the street, taking up a parking spot.

One of the concerns with the loss of the parking space, earlier stated by workers at the Paul Bunyan Senior Activity, is the availability of nearby parking spaces for seniors. The senior center has asked for a drop-off zone outside of the center to allow seniors with mobility issues to more easily get in and out of the senior center. That request has never been granted.

In addressing that issue Wednesday, the DDA made a motion to allow for a 15-minute parking spot in front of the senior center on Third Street.

"We are following the keep-it-simple plan," Autrey "We have no loading zones in downtown."

DDA President Ken Cobb said that a loading and unloading parking spot can be vague whereas a 15-minute parking spot can be used for the same purpose and more easily clarify time constraints.

Downtown currently has six 15-minute spots, and addressing the issue in the entire downtown will be useful for all business owners.

"The 15-minute spots will be useful for the retailers, the bakers, the engineering firms (and) it works for deliveries and quick stops for everyone," Autrey said.